An ancient proverb tells us to "go to the ant" and thus become wise. It would seem that advice is germane to traffic. If humanity possessed the hive cooperation that ants showed, driving would be less stressful and far more purposeful. Therein lies the rub. The real drivers of human traffic are the forces of the human psyche. If that was understandable, maybe traffic would be as well.
With considerable diligence and amusing wit, Tom Vanderbilt deftly exposes how anonymity and selfishness contribute to bad driving in his New York Times bestseller, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. He researched this book extremely well, interviewing traffic engineers and other experts around the world and traveling to various countries to view traffic there himself. He presents studies and statistics in an appealing way always highlighting the human factor involved.
Really, this book is about us — people, our habits, our actions. Traffic is really people, shoved together on old roads, interested only in our own destinations. In fact, traffic is described at one point in the book as 'lines of desire.' So, tracing the paths we travel with our cars, we can discern what it is we place importance on to a degree. We travel greater lengths at greater speeds and accept the many risks to get what we want — the prestigious job, shoes at the mall, kids to the ball game.
Vanderbilt never becomes pedantic or demeaning as he explains all these factors. And he covers subjects that could easily become controversial or preachy. There's a chapter that discusses how women contribute to traffic problems. But he quickly averts a sexist tirade and reveals the amount of work women perform. It's increased over the years and has forced them onto the road. He exposes the link between governmental corruption and traffic issues but does not begin condemning any government.